The protests against the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Salzburg - A first balance-sheet

This is a report of the demonstration in Salzburg against the World Economic Forum from Der Funke. The international "anti-globalisation movement" has reached an entirely new stage after the mass protests against the G8 in Genoa and after the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. This attempt to structure the movement into so-called Social Forums has been accompanied by the increasing political influence of openly reformist forces. Many of those who came to Salzburg this year definitely still had the pictures of last year's demonstration against the WEF in their minds. You could see the "robocops" all over the city, the permanent feeling of insecurity because of this massive police presence, the provocations of the police during the demo and, last but not least, the encircling of some 900 anti-capitalist activists.

Even though those experiences would still determine the discussions on strategy and tactics of anti-capitalists, for some time it had been quite clear to us that this year we would be facing a completely different situation. The international "anti-globalisation movement" has reached an entirely new stage after the mass protests against the G8 in Genoa and after the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre at the beginning of this year.

After having survived September 11 and the "war against terrorism", which right from the beginning was a war of the ruling class against any opposition that dared question the existing order, the movement had managed to spread. There was an attempt to structure the movement in the so-called Social Forums.

This attempt to give the movement an organisational structure was accompanied by the increasing political influence of openly reformist forces. This development which became obvious in Porto Alegre produced a change in the attitude of important sectors of the ruling class towards this obscure social phenomenon which was shaking the existing order. Finally they reached the conclusion that they could use the method of "divide and rule" against the movement.

The rulers of the world were inviting the so-called "civil society" to take part in a process of dialogue. Even the World Bank tried to present itself as self-critical at the "Earth Summit" in Johannesburg. Edmund Stoiber, the conservative candidate for the German parliamentary elections, hinted that it would be interesting to discuss the ideas of ATTAC, etc.

Austria is no exception. On the contrary, the concept of social partnership and class collaboration is still ever present among most of the "progressive forces" in this country. In spite of all the social contradictions over the last few years, the ÖGB (Austrian Trade Union Federation) was able to prevent the class struggle from coming to the surface. Whenever the trade union bureaucracy was forced to retreat under the pressure of the rank-and-file and forced to call for mobilisations this was always done with the aim of returning to the good old days of social partnership. The Social-Democratic president of the Salzburg Labour Chamber gave the reasons why he was supporting the "alternative summit" organised by ATTAC: "Now there is the opportunity for a change of values…We need a broad and independent control of the economy, control which would guarantee the most important interests of the workers, the suppliers, the consumers and the environment."

With the deep crisis in the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider and the end of the right-wing government coalition, the illusions of a return to social partnership for the sake of saving the privileges of the trade union bureaucracy will definitely increase in the next period.

This social climate, the fact that the Austrian Labour movement is still paralysed by the trade union bureaucracy and the ideology of social partnership, is an important element for the development of the left in general and all those organisations and individuals of the "civil society". It is not surprising that ATTAC was extremely happy when the employers' organisation of the conservative People's Party offered them a common public debate on the eve of the WEF summit against "globalisation". ATTAC and other elements of the "civil society" in the meantime believe that they have already won the ideological struggle against "neoliberalism". According to them it would be enough to organise some enlightening campaigns for the Tobin Tax or against tax havens to get one capitalist after another to abandon neoliberalism.

This year's "alternative summit" which was organised by ATTAC and other NGOs was clearly oriented towards strengthening the reformist outlook of the movement. The social basis for this would-be alternative to "neoliberal globalisation" would be small farmers and "NGOs who know the needs of the people, act locally and who have preserved natural knowledge". This would go hand in hand with reasonable employers who want to guarantee a "sustainable development" where profit will not be the only criteria. This openness towards the bourgeoisie is accompanied by a sharp demarcation of the radical left. For example, ATTAC denied us the right to have a bookstall at their meeting.

It is a pity that left-wing organisations like the Communist Party (CP) leadership or the Linkswende (the Austrian equivalent of the British SWP, supporters of the ideas of Tony Cliff) play a devastating role in this process and create illusions in the project for the formation of an Austrian Social Forum. The CP may even be facing dissolution if the reformist leadership follows the line of their comrades in the Italian Rifondazione Comunista. The CP completely neglects the need for a genuine communist programme and is adapting itself to the most moderate sectors of the movement.

However, in Salzburg it became also clear that the "radical left" ("autonomous" and ultra-left groups) are in a deep crisis. On Indymedia Austria one could read the following statement: "Our side was characterised by complete numerical, political and practical weakness. The radical forces gave the impression of disorganisation and indecision at this demo. […] Politically we were not visible as a strong counterpart to left-wing liberalism. Few reasonable articles were published during the time of the mobilisation and during the demonstration itself nearly no proclamation of our own political points of view (apart from a few banners) could be seen. The reasons for our own weakness are not to be found outside our milieu. We have the duty to analyse our internal weaknesses and contradictions and try to solve these. If we do not do so, we only prolonging our weaknesses and creating the conditions for our decline." There is nothing to add to this analysis on our part. The "autonomous" spectrum has nothing to offer apart from a "culture of fun and entertainment", and definitely no theories, programs or practical methods for building a revolutionary, anti-capitalist force.

"Furthermore the reformist forces of the SSF, ATTAC and the CP were able to accomplish a certain political hegemony over the protests," complains our "autonomous" friend on Indymedia. Again we agree. Even the police understood in the build-up to the mobilisation, that the "forces of reason" are in action, therefore co-operation and de-escalation would be possible.

Nevertheless the bourgeois state tried everything in their power to undermine and block the protests. Routes for demonstrations were suddenly forbidden. The city council of Salzburg tried for a long time not to permit the activities in the "Global Village", a broad political and cultural program. Also this year the city of Salzburg was flooded with police forces armed to their teeth. About 50 people were not allowed to enter Austria. On the trains to Salzburg "suspicious looking" young people were checked, and in the days prior to the demonstrations the police checked alleged protesters. At the time of our arrival at the train station a huge contingent of police already welcomed us and the poles for our banner were confiscated. The Salzburg Social Forum (SSF) complained that during the demonstration the police broke the agreements that they had reached with the SSF and tried to provoke riots.

Among the "autonomous" groups many may be frustrated that the demo did not storm the "red zone". Considering the balance of forces at this demo, one policeman for every protestor, (which any thinking person could have worked for themselves) we opposed such ideas right from the beginning of our mobilisation. Such purely symbolical acts of violence might satisfy certain individuals, but do not assist the general movement at all.

For months we had been trying to mobilise students and young workers for the demonstration against the WEF summit in Salzburg on the basis of an anti-capitalist, socialist programme and perspective. And, what was even more important from our point of view, we tried to organise these people. This campaign was extremely successful. In the whole of Austria and also internationally our ideas got quite a big echo. At the beginning of the summer we started to distribute thousands of leaflets and organised a series of public debates in Vorarlberg, the Tyrol, Upper and Lower Austria and in Vienna, about the WEF and the need to protest against the capitalist system. We linked this campaign to the question of the Argentinean revolution and the threat of war against Iraq.

For us it was clear that we had to emphasise the idea that the anti-capitalist movement only deserves this name if the organised working class is playing the central role within it. Especially in Austria we are still far away from achieving this, even though parts of the ÖGB sympathise with the movement and are prepared to take part in it. But for the time being, this expresses itself only through organisational and financial support and a certain willingness to enter into a dialogue with the "civil society", but the trade union bureaucracy is still not prepared to mobilise its rank and file for such protests. Our orientation towards the labour movement is not just in words but is a very concrete one. Supporters of the Marxist tendency are active within the trade union movement and within the Young Socialists and have been trying for months to mobilise these organisations for the protests in Salzburg. Through our campaign we played a key role in the successful mobilisation of the Young Socialists which had the biggest organised bloc at this demo with more than 260 young people. The YS bloc was not only well organised (stewards; a "human chain" around the bloc; everybody was part of a group of 6 comrades in case the police were to split up the bloc; "demo medics", a film team, etc), but was also the loudest and biggest at the demo.

But protesting against the WEF is not enough. Now we have to organise and get active in the schools, universities and workplaces around concrete issues (the struggle for a democratic education system, against cuts in education, for the rights of apprentices, against the war in Iraq…) and link these campaigns to a clear revolutionary perspective.

Salzburg provided further proof for the well-known fact that there are no organisational shortcuts for revolutionaries when it comes to the question of gaining mass influence. The anti-capitalist movement with its orientation to so-called "summit-hopping" (protests against the summits of the IMF, G8, WEF, etc) since Genoa has entered a blind alley. It is obvious that this mobilisation in Salzburg could not become the qualitative leap forward for the Left in Austria. Salzburg was an important stage for us. However contrary to organisations like the Linkswende we did not try to deceive ourselves. They had the illusion that Salzburg could become a mass mobilisation, as the following quotation from one of their internal documents shows: "We want a big success in Salzburg and we believe that the movement has reached a stage where it will have a completely different character concerning its content and its mass participation. In support of this analysis we can quote the marvellous work of the Salzburg Social Forum, a platform of more than 40 organisations, over the last few months, the participation of the trade unions, the international mobilisation, for example the announcement of 200-300 comrades from Rifondazione in Italy. Salzburg can become a European signal, that's why we need a qualitative mega-mobilisation."

That this perspective would not become a reality was clear for everybody equipped with a spark of sense of proportion. This anti-capitalist movement is nowhere near to becoming a new revolutionary protagonist. Even in those countries where it has been able to mobilise masses, such as in Italy, the movement has continued on a completely different level and has found new channels to express itself, new methods to organise and to fight which in reality are anything but new. In Italy the trade union movement has taken over the leadership of the movement against the government of Berlusconi and the policy of the employers' organisation and has mobilised millions of workers in a wave of strikes and mass demonstrations. What is also very interesting is that young casual workers and immigrants are starting to organise themselves in the traditional unions.

The anti-capitalist movement has made an important contribution in raising an international perspective within the left and the labour movement. But we have to be aware of the fact that the class struggle still mainly develops on a national level. "Summit hopping", this modern version of revolutionary tourism, is an inappropriate method for extending real social movements. The fundamental contradiction between labour and capital still remains central!

An analysis of the class struggle in Italy, Spain, Argentina and elsewhere shows us that the rubbish about the so-called "multitude" as the new subject of social change is nothing more than a daydream of old and young anarchists. Marxists counterpose to this the concept of building a mighty and militant counterweight to the rule of capital within the traditional mass organisations of the labour movement. Hence: join our YS branches, get active in the trade unions and support us in building a strong Marxist wing within the labour movement.

Der Funke Editorial Board

September 17, 2002

See pictures from the demo
Read the original German version: Anti-WEF-Proteste - eine erste Bilanz